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It’s been seven years since Skillet last graced Australian shores. Fan patiences will soon pay off when the Wisconsin quartet return with their all-powerful anthemic rumble on tour in November.
Since here last, Skillet have climbed the long ladder of total domination in the hard rock world. “That is the single best sentence I’ve heard all week,” laughs vocalist and bassist John Cooper.
It’s true though, and it’s great to hear Cooper laugh about it. Skillet have sold over 11 million albums worldwide, two Grammy Award nominations and a double-platinum single when they released ‘Monster’ in 2015. Watching Skillet grow has been phenomenal, particularly when it comes to the escalation of their popularity, their musicianship, and the family unit they present as a band.
But there’s been an elephant in their room for some time – “Christian rock”. Despite Skillet’s massively hardcore execution of some truly banging songs, even now they find themselves at a point where people are still in disbelief that they have such a heavy religious focus, personally and lyrically. “I think people are still sometimes taken aback by it,” says Cooper. “I do think there’s a lot of folks who don’t know the title “Christian band” until after they hear the music and to me, that’s a good thing.
It can hurt you on the front end—the title can throw people off—maybe they get the wrong idea of our motives and what it means, but I always tell people, I never wanted to play music for only Christian people, I don’t want people to feel excluded at concerts.
“I sing about life and the things I go through, but my faith is very important to me. If you’re a genuine writer and you’re being authentic, then everything you write is going to be through the filter of your world view – your loves, your heartaches, having fun – I write things through my world view filter and it comes off as spiritual to a lot of people. I think it’s authentic when it comes off that way.”
The ultimate mantra of Skillet has always been about unity, but what the individual interprets that unity to mean is, as Cooper says, varied and welcome. “I was doing an interview with Nikki Sixx [Mötley Crüe] and he was saying, ‘Man, when I listen to your music I don’t necessarily get Christianity, I just get second chances. I get starting over and post-addiction and things like that.’ He’s a smart guy and I thought that was a cool thing to pick up on in the music.
“When I sing Awake And Alive, I’m talking about a spiritual rebirth that happened to me, but for some people it could be about coming out of a bad relationship, out of an addiction, it can be so many things. I think that’s more artistic to always be blatant about what it is I’m talking about.
“I like that in music, I think music should bring people together, so that’s why I’m thrilled we have so many different kinds of fans. We have anti-religious fans and I love that, it’s wonderful.”
When inserted into today’s socio-political climate, it’s sometimes proves difficult for Cooper to maintain his religious freedoms not just within his art, but in his life as well – sticking to his laurels is at times, a challenge. “In some of my young naivety,” Cooper begins, laughing heartily, “I was dumb enough to believe back then, making my first music, my first record, I was naïve enough to think that it was just about the music. It was never about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
“Remember the movie School Of Rock with Jack Black? He was talking about how ‘man screwed up rock with MTV and it used to be about a little thing called the music’ – every time I watch that movie I go, ‘That’ exactly right!’ All the people I’ve met that have been like ‘Hey, if you just would lose the Christian thing…’
“I was with a band, their agent came up to me after the show and said ‘If you wold deny the Christian thing, you would be the biggest touring rock band in the world.’ I remember thinking, really? I just thought it was about the music.”
Of course, Cooper is beyond the point of caring now – he just wants to be who he is, to write what he feels. “To tell you the truth, I think that’s served Skillet well! Doesn’t matter where people come from, religious or non-religious or anything in between, I think they like Skillet because they believe us. They feel that it’s real and they feel I can relate to them. They know I’m not BS-ing them because I’ve got nothing to lose, I just want to sing about something I believe [in] and a lot of people believe it too, and I think that’s why we’ve done well.”
Catch Skillet at the following dates:
Thu 15 November // Big Top // Sydney
Sat 17 November // Eatons Hill Hotel // Brisbane
Sun 18 November // Forum Theatre // Melbourne
Mon 19 November // HQ // Adelaide